Tackling bullying and harassment in the workplace

Thursday February 20, 2020

Bullying can take many forms. Sometimes it’s obvious, bearing the hallmarks of a playground bully. But increasingly in the digital age, bullying and harassment has moved online as well.

Our ‘always-on’ culture means that bullies can operate at all hours. And, now, a screen can provide anonymity.

Bullying can frequently go unnoticed until it’s too late. And whilst many people may picture a playground bully when reading or hearing about cases of bullying, it’s not just happening amongst schoolchildren.

Bullying in the workplace

A common form of bullying or harassment to affect both men and women, is the feeling of being undermined or humiliated at work. Or receiving persistent and unwarranted criticism and personal remarks from others.

To an untrained manager, this kind of bullying and harassment can be mistakenly shrugged off as workplace banter. They may perceive the complainant as being too “sensitive” or “dramatic” and feel that no further action is necessary. They may even be at the root of the problem themselves, with little understanding of the consequences.

Failing to take further action when an employee reports bullying or harassment can leave a toxic situation to get much worse, causing harm to the employee and wider business.

The risks of ignoring workplace bullying and harassment

A recent survey found that eight out of ten workers who had experienced harassment at work did not report it. Is the problem more widespread than suspected?

Employees who suffer in silence could be experiencing poor mental and physical health from prolonged stress. Their work can suffer, and they may be more inclined to take sick days rather than face a problem at work if they feel it won’t be managed well.

Those that do report a problem but do not receive sufficient support from their employer, can start to feel isolated and dread coming to work. They may also have cause for a WRC claim if harassment towards them violates the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015.  In addition, prevention of bullying at work is a requirement of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Acts, failure to protect an employee from a mental health breakdown due to bulling at work can have very severe and costly consequences for the employer.

Three steps to tackling bullying in business

  1. Like any conflict between co-workers, bullying and harassment should be addressed and dealt with immediately. Having a policy on how your business manages conflict resolution will help. But it is essential that managers receive training in order for your policy to protect employees and your business.
  2. Where possible, seek an informal resolution with both parties. If you need an impartial witness, we can help. If the problem persists or escalates you will need to take formal action as per your disciplinary and grievance procedure. Be sure to keep a record of all meeting notes and agreed outcomes.
  3. More than this, you’ll want to foster and encourage an inclusive and supportive workplace culture that allows employees to be themselves at work. Lead by example and let employees know that mean-spirited behaviour towards others will not be tolerated.

A helping hand from The HR Dept

Approaching the topic or following up on a complaint of bullying or harassment might be uncomfortable and instigate some difficult conversations. But allowing it to continue can create much bigger problems.

Keep your business free of bullying and harassment with our HR advice and guidance. We can help you with training programmes in addition to reactive and proactive techniques to make your business a healthy and happy place to work.

Preventing People Problems

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